Ku Klux Klan members in Anaheim in 1915. Anaheim Public Library

The home of the “happiest place on earth” was once controlled by the Ku Klux Klan

Long before Disneyland’s arrival in the 1950s, Anaheim was a sleepy town filled with orange groves and governed by long-standing civic and business leaders.

Then a group of Klansmen led by a church minister emerged with a platform to create an orderly community that imposed strict rules against alcohol and other vices.

In 1924, they secretly sponsored a slate of candidates for the city council and won four of its five seats. Once installed, they promptly fired numerous members of the old administration.

With few minorities in town, the Klansmen focused mostly on opposing Catholicism and bootlegging. The letters K.I.G.Y. — meaning Klansman I Greet You — were added to signs around town.

Anaheim transformed into a company town with the arrival of Disneyland.

Anthony H./CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Advertised nationally as a model Klan city, Anaheim was chosen to host a major Klan rally that drew 20,000 people. There was a parade, two rented airplanes that flashed “K.K.K.” in electric lights, and the burning of a 30-foot cross.

The town grew fiercely divided over the hooded order. A leader of the anti-Klan side bought a list of the group’s secret membership, which revealed the four councilmen’s affiliation, along with 9 out of the 10 members of the police department and several other city officials.

Recall elections were called that stood as a referendum on whether the city would be “Klanheim” or Anaheim. In a vote that drew a 95 percent turnout, the Klan members were resoundingly defeated. Their grip on power had lasted less than a year. By 1930, the group had been all but drummed out of town.

Several generations and waves of immigration later, Anaheim is now Orange County’s most populous city. Disney dominates much of its economic and political life, the citrus groves are a memory, and the population is about three quarters nonwhite.

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